Royal Flush! – A Surprise RV Toilet Replacement…Under Warranty :-)

Our fifth wheel trailer is 10 years old now, and we’ve been living in it full-time for most of those years. Our RV toilet has been with us every step of the way, although over the last few years it has struggled to hold water in the bowl.

Last week, out of the blue, Mark put his foot on the pedal to flush the toilet, heard a loud snap, and then the toilet flapper valve refused to budge. It was completely broken and unable to open and flush properly. Ugh!!

Luckily, the toilet bowl couldn’t hold water any more either, so it was kinda able to flush, just in a dribbling sort of way!

RV Toilet Replacement under an Extended RV Warranty

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So, our delightful plans to go play in the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado were dashed, and we drove off over the horizon in pursuit of a replacement RV toilet.

Broken RV toilet can't hold water in the toilet bowl

The toilet flushing mechanism broke, and pressing the pedal no longer opened
the flush valve in the toilet bowl. Fluids dribbled out quickly anyway… Not good!

After some calling around, we found a shop that had our exact Thetford toilet in stock, and when we arrived, there it was on the display rack!

New RV toilet at the RV repair shop

What luck! There is an identical toilet on the display rack.

We have an RV Extended Warranty with Wholesale Warranties that has been a huge help in dealing with the many surprise financial blows we’ve faced as our trailer has aged and various components have quit working.

We first got our warranty in October of 2014, and by Christmas of the following year it had paid for itself several times over as we faced one major repair after another, all in a row.

Unlike vehicle insurance, which protects vehicle owners against accidents, an extended RV warranty protects against failures of the systems in the RV that aren’t caused by a mishap.

Installing new RV toilet in tiny RV toilet room in fifth wheel trailer

There wasn’t a whole lot of space to work in our little toilet room!

We learned from our last RV toilet repair job that replacing broken parts in an RV toilet is often more expensive than simply swapping out the toilet all together.

So we weren’t surprised when the service manager said he wanted to replace our toilet rather than troubleshooting the problem and disassembling and reassembling the toilet to replace the broken part. He called our RV warranty company and explained that the toilet couldn’t flush and that the flushing mechanism was broken.

The warranty company agreed to cover the toilet replacement in full.

To get started, the RV technician removed the shield around the base of the toilet and then unscrewed the two large bolts that hold the RV toilet to the floor.

Remove RV toilet base shield in fifth wheel trailer

The first step to removing the toilet is to remove the shield from around the base.

Two bolts hold an RV toilet to the floor of a fifth wheel trailer

Two bolts — one on either side of the base — hold the RV toilet to the floor.

Then he detached the fresh water line from the toilet and pulled the toilet off of the hole in the floor that goes to the black tank underneath.

Old RV toilet removed from hole to black sewage wastewater tank

The toilet is removed from its position over the sewer drain hole that goes to the black wastewater holding tank.

Next, he detached the hose clamps holding the rinse spray wand’s flexible hose onto the toilet

Removing broken RV toilet before installing new RV toilet

The hose clamp for the fresh water rinse sprayer is removed.

After pulling out the toilet, all that was left in the little toilet room was the hole in the floor that goes to the black wastewater holding tank, the blue fresh water line that fills the bowl and flushes the toilet, and the fresh water spray wand with its flexible hose (this was an option on our old toilet and didn’t come with the new toilet, so we kept the old spray wand).

Empty RV toilet room in 5th wheel trailer

After the toilet is removed, all that remains is the black water sewer hole, the blue fresh water flush pipe and the flexible fresh water sprayer hose.

Then it was out with the old — and in with the new!

Removing broken RV toilet from fifth wheel trailer

Out with the old toilet…

Installing new RV toilet in a fifth wheel trailer

…In with the new toilet!

To install the new RV toilet, the process was repeated in reverse. First the toilet was positioned over the black tank hole, then the fresh water line and the fresh water spray wand were reattached, and finally the RV toilet was bolted to the floor.

Since the spray wand is an option, the toilet ships with the barbed hose fitting it slides onto sealed shut. So, before sliding the hose onto the barbed hose fitting, the end of the fitting had to be clipped off.

Back of new Thetford RV toilet with optional spray wand

In order to attach the rinse sprayer, the hose connection must be clipped to open it up.

Optional sprayer nozzle on RV toilet installation

Sprayer and fresh water flush lines attached.

And then the installation was finished and our sparkling new RV toilet was all ready for its first Royal Flush!

The whole procedure took an hour from start to finish. When we settled up with the service manager, the final bill was the following:

FINAL BILL FOR REPLACING OUR RV TOILET:

Parts – New RV toilet (porcelain bowl) $297.59
Labor – One hour $105.00
Tax $11.61
Total Cost $414.20

RV EXTENDED WARRANTY PAYMENT BREAKDOWN:

Warranty Coverage (amount we saved) $314.20
Out of Pocket Cost (our deductible) $100.00
Total Payment $414.20
New RV toilet installation in fifth wheel trailer

A nice sparkling brand new toilet. Yay!

This brings our total repairs and savings with our Trailer Extended Warranty to the following:

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

If you are curious what an extended RV warranty would cost for your rig, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Call our contact, Missi Junior at (800) 939-2806 or email her at missi@wholesalewarranties.com and mention that you heard about them from our website, Roads Less Traveled. Or go to this link:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Form

The $50 discount comes off of the quoted price at the time of purchase — just be sure to ask!

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5th Wheel Trailer Suspension Failure – Replaced with our RV Warranty!

You never know what might break on an RV, and during our 2015 RV travels from Arizona to Nova Scotia and back, we faced four major repairs on our 8 year old fifth wheel trailer in four short months. Ouch.

The last breakdown — the failure of our fifth wheel trailer’s suspension — ended up being the most expensive repair of them all, because the entire trailer suspension had to be replaced. We were so miserable about the whole situation as it unfolded last fall in Phoenix, Arizona, that the last thing I wanted to do was to write about it on this blog.

So, the story has waited five months until now when our spirits are high and we’re camped near a stunning lake in the Canadian Rockies!

Bow Lake Jasper Ice Fields Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Repairs aside, this is why we RV!

2015 was a phenomenal year of travel for us, but it could have been a financial disaster.

$7,420

That was the scary total cost of all our RV repairs in 2015. Yikes!!

Fortunately, our out of pocket cost was just $1,045, because we had an extended RV warranty for our trailer.

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

As reflected on our RV budget and expenses analysis page, our combined maintenance and repair costs on our truck and trailer averaged $106 per month for our full-time travels between May, 2007, and August, 2015.

Life was good back then. Maintenance was easy and the unexpected repairs were small and manageable. Anything that went wrong was something Mark could fix (he’s an extremely gifted mechanic).

But 2015 unfolded very differently than prior years. This was mostly due to our trailer now being eight years old and also because we spent a month spent driving the rough back roads of Nova Scotia.

What is an RV Warranty and should you have one?

We weren’t sure at first, but after 4 expensive repairs in 4 months in 2015, we now know the answer is YES!!!

So, how did this all transpire?

When we were in Nova Scotia, we bent a spindle on the rear axle of our trailer. We limped to Bangor, Maine, and got a new axle installed.

Old trailer axle new fifth wheel RV axle

We had to replace a trailer axle after driving the rough back roads in Nova Scotia

Besides damaging a trailer axle while we were in Nova Scotia, we also sprang leaks in both our fresh water tank and in our big rear window. The underbelly compartment of our trailer was filling with water whenever we filled our fresh water tank, and our rear window was leaking water all over our living room carpet whenever it rained (and it rains a lot in the northeast). Ugh!

Sadly, large fresh water tanks are not a commodity item, because they come in all shapes and sizes.

So, rather than waiting for two months for a new fresh water tank to come to the repair shop in Maine, we decided to do both of these water-related repairs (as well as a bunch of other smaller repairs) in Chanute, Kansas, at NuWa Industries, the factory repair facility where our trailer was originally manufactured.

NuWa claimed to have a fresh water tank for our trailer model in stock (this proved not to be the case, but that is another story), and they had an appointment available in two months (and no sooner!).

We could live with the leaks and other small problems, so this gave us two months to get from Maine to Kansas. We moseyed west and enjoyed a fabulous stay in Maysville, Kentucky.

Unfortunately, within 24 hours of leaving there, our RV refrigerator died. Good grief — While en route from a trailer axle repair in Maine to a bunch of plumbing related repairs in Kansas, we had to get a new RV fridge somewhere near western Kentucky. Not many places stock 8 cubic foot Dometic RV refrigerators! We scrambled and got our RV refrigerator replaced outside Indianapolis.

RV Refrigerator replacement under warranty

We had to replace our RV refrigerator after 8 years (the typical lifespan for a fridge, we found out!)

Luckily, the refrigerator replacement at Camping World went really well.

Once we got to Chanute, Kansas for our new fresh water tank, window repair, toilet repair, faucet replacement and a few other things, our buggy had to stay in the shop for three days!!

RV fresh water holding tank replacement

We had to replace our fresh water tank and do many other plumbing and leak-related repairs.

We were not allowed to stay in our rig while it was in the shop in Kansas. Fortunately, the trailer warranty reimbursement for those three days of repairs included our two nights at a motel. Thank goodness for that warranty once again!

Back on the road after our plumbing and water leak repairs were completed in Kanses, we ventured onward to Phoenix, Arizona.

Sadly, our saga of trailer repairs was not over yet.

TRAILER SUSPENSION FAILURE

Since we had left Maine (where we had gotten our new trailer axle installed), we had watched with alarm as the two wheels on our trailer’s tandem axles had gotten progressively closer and closer together. The frame of our trailer, built by Lippert Components, had always had very narrow spacing between the two wheels.

When we had upgraded from the factory installed E-rated (10 ply) tires to the higher profile G-rated (14 ply) tires a few years prior, I could squeeze two fingers between the tires. After our trailer axle replacement and new tire purchase in Maine, I verified that this was still the case.

5th wheel trailer suspension tire spacing is okay

Spacing between the wheels is two finger widths.

However, by the time we got to Phoenix, I could barely get the tip of my pinky finger between them and I could not slide my whole pinky in.

Fifth wheel trailer tires 1-4 inch apart

My pinky finger can squeeze only partway in between the tires!

The spacing was down to less than 1/4 inch.

Fifth wheel trailer tires 1-4 inch apart

Sagging suspension made our wheels dangerously close together.

Something was very wrong.

We took the trailer to Straight Line Suspension in Mesa, Arizona, a repair shop that had a newly outfitted facility that does a lot of contract suspension maintenance work on fleets of school buses and commercial trucks.

After careful inspection, their consensus was that we needed to revamp the trailer’s suspension completely. Something was failing, and whether the culprit was the leaf springs, or the equalizer between the springs or the axles themselves, no one could determine exactly.

Fifth wheel trailer RV at suspension shop for service

Our buggy goes into the repair shop for a new suspension.

And this is where we were glad not just to have any old extended warranty contract on our trailer but to have one purchased through Wholesale Warranties.

THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING AN ALLY

Unlike most RV warranty brokers, Wholesale Warranties is heavily invested in the relationship between their clients and the warranty providers they represent. They want to be sure that their customers’ claims are properly handled by the warranty companies. So, they are more than happy to get involved in their clients’ claims to facilitate and make sure there are no misunderstandings.

This level of commitment to their products and belief in them is truly astonishing. And it makes all the difference in the world.

When the service provider (Straight Line Suspension) first called our warranty provider (Portfolio Protection), the warranty company was understandably reluctant to cover the repair without knowing the root cause of the failure. They pressed the shop to determine which specific part had caused the failure. Was it the shocks? The leaf springs? The axles? They wanted to replace only the component(s) that failed and nothing more. That makes sense!

However, the suspension experts had no idea which part had failed, and they said there was no easy way to figure that out. So, we called Wholesale Warranties and had a long conversation with John Wise. We described to him the gradual failure we had witnessed and the difficulty of pin-pointing exactly which component(s) had failed and in what order the failure(s) had occurred.

I emailed him photos of our wheel spacing both before and after the failure. Thank goodness I take so many photos and had both “before” and “after” photos to send him!

He then called our warranty company, Portfolio Protection, and reviewed the photos with them. He explained that the suspension mechanics were not sure exactly what had caused the failure but that the suspension was not functioning properly and needed to be replaced.

In the end, Portfolio Protection agreed to replace the springs, equalizers and shocks and also to correct the insufficient spacing between the leaf spring hangers, placing them further apart so that even if some components failed or sagged in the future, there would no risk that the wheels would touch.

If it weren’t for Wholesale Warranties coming to our aid to act as a liaison and facilitator and to help explain our breakdown in a way that the warranty provider could understand, this vital repair would not have been covered.

Of course, the role of Wholesale Warranties is strictly as a facilitator. They can’t force the provider to reimburse a repair that is not covered by the contract. We have called Wholesale Warranties for liaison assistance several times now, and they have been very up front when our repair was outside the limits of our contract.

However, being able to call them and describe the problem and get their input is extremely helpful. This is particularly true in cases like our trailer axle repair where both our RV insurance plan AND our RV warranty contract could be used to pay for the repair, but one was financially preferable to the other due to differing deductibles and different kinds of coverage.

 

FIFTH WHEEL TRAILER SUSPENSION REPLACEMENT

The first step in our trailer suspension replacement was to jack up the trailer and remove the two axles. We had just done a fabulous trailer disc brake conversion eight months earlier, and this was the THIRD time the hydraulic lines had been tampered with due to removing the axles or the belly pan from the frame. How frustrating!

Fifth wheel trailer axles hangers ready to be removed

The trailer axles are removed from the trailer.

Once the axles were off the trailer, the next step was to remove the leaf spring hangers.

Fifth wheel trailer axle hangers

The hangers must be cut off the frame.

The sparks flew like mad as each of the six hangers was cut off the frame using a torch.

Sparks fly as fifth wheel trailer leaf spring hangers are cut off

Sparks fly as the old trailer leaf spring hangers are cut off

Cutting off trailer leaf spring hangers

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Straight Line Suspension wanted to ensure the new springs were strong enough, so they chose 8,000 lb. American made springs from Rockwell American, even though we had just 7,000 lb. axles and only 11,250 lbs. sitting on the pair of axles (as of our most recent RV weighing by the Escapees Smartweigh program).

New 8000 lb fifth wheel trailer leaf springs

New 8000 lb American made leaf springs from Rockwell American

They pointed out to us the difference between Chinese made springs and American made springs. Chinese steel is notorious for being inferior to American steel, and the overall fabrication quality of the springs, especially at the eye, was not as good.

American made leaf springs

The eye of the American made leaf springs looks clean and well made.

Chinese leaf springs

Not so much for the Chinese made leaf springs

Our trailer’s original Chinese springs had come with nylon bushings inside the eye, but they had been upgraded to brass bushings. When the old springs were removed from the trailer, we saw the brass bushings inside were worn out. The curvature of the spring from the eye was also flat, an indication that the spring itself was worn out.

Worn out bushings in trailer axle leaf spring

Worn out bushings and the spring is flat — no curvature left!
(compare to above pics!)

Straight Line Suspension fabricated a new leaf spring hanger system that had three hangers welded onto a bar. These hangers would space the axles further apart than they originally had been.

New custom trailer leaf spring hanger

New custom trailer leaf spring hangers

The bar was then welded onto the underside of the trailer frame.

New trailer tandem leaf spring hanger ready to be installed

The new trailer leaf spring hanger bar is positioned so it can be welded onto the frame.

After welding on the new hanger bar, new equalizers were bolted onto each center hangers.

New trailer tandem axle equalizer

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Then the leaf springs were bolted onto the outer hangers.

New fifth wheel trailer leaf spring hangers leaf springs and equalizer

Springs and equalizers in place — all set to reinstall the axles.

The axles were installed using new U-bolts. Straight Line Suspension also made a brace to span the width of the trailer between the two hanger bars to add some rigidity to the suspension system.

New support for trailer tandem axle suspension

A brace running across the width of the trailer makes the system stronger and more sturdy.

New trailer leaf spring and leaf spring hangers

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Then they welded new shock mounts on the frame and installed new Monroe Gas-Magnum RV shock absorbers.

New shock absorbers on tandem trailer axle suspension

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The final result — our wheels were a fist’s width apart!!

Proper spacing tandem axle fifth wheel trailer RV

The trailer axles are spaced a lot better now.

SUSPENSION REPAIR COST BREAKDOWN

Here are the costs for the suspension replacement and our out of pocket costs as a result of our extended trailer warranty:

Parts: $1,119.83
Labor: $1,440.00
Tax: $90.15
Total: $2,649.98
Reimbursement: $2,549.98
Out of Pocket (deductible): $100.00

COMPLICATIONS

Unfortunately, in the world of repairs, sometimes fixing one thing breaks another.

After our trailer suspension replacement was completed, we towed our trailer out into the parking lot and went inside to get organized to leave for our next destination.

As always, we were not connected to electrical hookups, so we turned on our new Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter that we had installed as part of our overall RV electrical system overhaul so we could generate 120 volt AC power from our batteries and run our microwave and computers.

Instantly an alarm went off.

What???

We flew to turn off the inverter and then began troubleshooting segments of our AC wiring to try to figure out the problem.

Suddenly, we heard a huge loud POP. And that was the end of the inverter.

Good heavenly days.

Luckily, the inverter was still under its manufacturer’s warranty. Exeltech is phenomenal about caring for their equipment out in the field. They provide inverters to NASA and their equipment is on both the American and Russian sides of the International Space Station. They take great pride in their equipment and have an excellent warranty repair process.

Mark undid the really nice inverter installation job he’d done for our Exeltech, boxed it up, and shipped it to Exeltech’s Ft. Worth, Texas, facility.

Exeltech 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter installed above Trojan Reliant AGM batteries in fifth wheel RV

Geez… Our beautiful inverter (the suspended black box) had been working flawlessly!
(To keep the inverter cool and well clear of the batteries, yet still close, it is securely suspended above)

In the meantime, we spent a day troubleshooting our wiring to try to understand what had gone wrong. It wasn’t clear to us how the trailer suspension replacement might have impacted our trailer wiring, and Straight Line Suspension was certain that the two were unrelated.

After many hours of crawling under the trailer, and removing the belly pan section by section, and running our fingers along the frame and shining a flashlight into the unreachable depths, we found a spot where the AC trunk line was resting on the frame.

Well, it wasn’t exactly resting any more. The heat from the cutting and welding torches had melted the cable’s insulation onto the frame!

Mark carefully incised the casing, separated the hot and neutral lines, re-wrapped them in new insulation and affixed the cable firmly to the underside of the plywood flooring well away from the frame.

How had this happened?

Sadly, Straight Line Suspension did not check the frame sufficiently in the areas where they would be welding before they started torching the hangers off of it and welding on the new hanger system. Of course, this is a difficult thing to do because a plastic corrugated sheeting covers the entire underbelly of the trailer, protecting the tanks and wiring from road grime.

In order to inspect the frame before taking a torch to it, this corrugated sheeting must be removed, and any wiring in the area where the welding will take place must be located to ensure that it is not touching the frame.

RV manufacturers should enclose all wiring in conduit, or at least tack it to the underside of the plywood flooring, rather running it along the I-beams. However, that was not the case in our trailer. The wiring was tacked up to the flooring in some places, but there were extensive gaps that sagged, and this one portion sagged enough to be touching the frame right where the cutting and welding took place.

We live off the grid in our RV on solar power, so our inverter is our sole source of AC power. Losing it was a huge inconvenience!

While we waited for ten days or so for our inverter to make it to Ft. Worth, undergo diagnosis and repair then be shipped back to Phoenix, Mark installed our old Exeltech XP 1100 inverter in its place. Thank goodness we hung onto it after our upgrade from the 1100 watt to the 2000 watt version of the inverter!!

Straight Line Suspension paid for the expedited shipping and insurance for our inverter, and eventually, the happy day came when our inverter arrived and Mark got it put back in place.

Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter living off the grid in an RV

The Exeltech XPX 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter has been repaired and is ready to be reinstalled.

Needless to say, this was an ordeal that was not fun to live through and one that I waited a long time to write about. However, it is an amazing illustration of just how valuable an RV warranty can be, especially if you get one from a broker that stands behind their customers during the claims process. It’s also an important reminder that if someone is going to take a torch to your RV frame, they should check the nearby wiring first!

We weren’t sure just how worthwhile an RV Warranty would be when we got ours, but 2015 would have been an extremely expensive year for us without it. It’s bad enough to be stuck on the side of the road. But having to pay through the nose for the nasty surprise of a major repair makes the ordeal even worse.

Trailer on side of interstate with bad wheel bearing

What’s worse than being dead on the side of the road? Knowing it’s gonna cost ya!

Wholesale Warranties loves our repair stories, and they have offered our readers a $50 discount on their RV warranty (for a trailer or motorhome) if you mention our website, Roads Less Traveled, when you set it up. The discount will come off the quoted price at the time of purchase (remind them before you sign if you don’t see it — it’s not automated!!). Here is the link to get a quote for a warranty on your particular RV:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Page

Or you can call them at (800) 939-2806 and ask for our contact, Missi Junior, or email her at missi@wholesalewarranties.com.

FURTHER READING:

Articles Related to Finances in the RV Lifestyle:

Our Personal Case History of RV Warranty Repairs:

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RV Refrigerator Replacement – How an RV Warranty Saved Our Bacon!

We’ve been reporting on whether or not an RV warranty is a good investment for RVers, and this page — the second of four installments — presents our latest findings.
(Hint: the answer is a resounding YES!)

Ten days ago, after a fabulous two weeks in Maysville, Kentucky, and a long day of driving, we set up camp, grabbed a beer, and kicked back to enjoy a cold one. But to our dismay, the beer was kinda warm. We ratcheted the RV refrigerator up a notch and went about our business. After dinner and a movie in our RV, we decided to have a bowl of ice cream. When Mark lifted the lid on the Haagen Dazs, what he found inside could only be described as cool chocolate soup.

Oh no! Our 8 year old RV refrigerator had died.

RV extended warranty repair RV refrigerator replacement

Do something quick! We’re going to lose everything in the fridge and freezer!!

As the clock neared midnight, we began a frantic search for RV repair shops in the area. We put together a list of them, went to bed quite distressed, and first thing the next morning we started making phone calls. Mark threw bags of ice in the fridge and freezer and we didn’t dare open either door after that. We lamented sadly that all our frozen meats — all those nice burgers and steaks, and even our bacon, darn it — were quickly defrosting.

After about 15 phone calls, we were still nowhere. Everyone told us it would be a two week wait to get a fridge and that it would probably cost upwards of $1,500. Finally, we called Camping World just south of Indianapolis. They had an identical unit in stock and they could squeeze us in for service the next morning. They told us they always try to make an extra effort for desperate travelers passing through.

Well, we weren’t exactly passing through. We were in Kentucky driving west towards Tennessee, and they were 150 miles to the north in the totally wrong direction. But what can you do? We were absolutely thrilled to find an RV repair facility that had an RV refrigerator in stock and could install it quickly, so a 150 mile detour was not a problem!

This would be our second major repair in just over a month. We had just had our 36′ fifth wheel trailer axle replaced. What’s worse, we were actually on our way to an RV repair appointment in Kansas to fix a leak in our fresh water tank. What kind of luck was that?

As it turns out, Lady Luck was following us very closely. Our RV extended warranty had covered the bulk of the trailer axle repair, and we were pretty sure it would cover this one too.

Where we stood on our trailer warranty at this point was the following:


We were 11 months into a 4 year RV extended warranty
Cost of RV warranty: $1,904
Reimbursements (less deductibles) to date: $1,036
Remaining Reimbursements to Break Even: $868

You can see the current status of our warranty HERE.

It looked like this RV warranty repair would not only bring our total reimbursements to the point of covering the original cost of the RV extended warranty but would go well beyond that.

18 hours after we’d discovered our fridge was dead, Camping World service manager Rick Helvey was in our trailer examining its hulking carcass. He told us that propane RV refrigerators typically last only 10 years.

What??!!

It was no surprise to him that our 8 year old unit had kicked the bucket. He opened the fridge vent on the outside of the trailer and showed us the telltale signs of a dying RV refrigerator: greenish or yellowish dust.

The presence of this dust meant the ammonia was leaking out and the cooling unit had given up the ghost. The crazy thing is that the price of a cooling unit is nearly the same as the price of a new RV refrigerator — Not Cheap!

RV warranty repair on a refrigerator - inside the vent

Yellowish dust in the fridge vent area is proof positive that the fridge is dying.

RV warranty repair RV refrigerator installation

Here is a closer look at the greenish – yellowish dust.

He called our warranty provider, Portfolio Protection, to get approval to proceed with the repair the next morning. To his astonishment (and ours), they said they wouldn’t reimburse us for a replacement refrigerator. They would reimburse us only for the replacement of the cooling unit to save themselves a little money. Here’s the breakdown:

Install New RV Refrigerator Parts: $1,389.99
Labor: $267.00
Tax: $97.00
Total: $1,753.99
Replace Cooling Unit Only Parts: $1,049.00
Labor: $356.00
Tax: $73.43
Shipping: $100.00
Total: $1,578.43

DIFFERENCE IN OVERALL COST: $175.56

This was a problem — for us and for Camping World!!

If we got our refrigerator replaced, we would be in and out of Camping World in 3 hours the next morning and they could go back to business as usual with their local customers. If we had to have the cooling unit replaced, we would have to wait a week or two for the part to come in and Camping World would have to reshuffle their appointments the next morning, once again, because our appointment was already on the books. We had all assumed the approval of a replacement refrigerator would be a slam-dunk.

New RV fridge ready for installation

Our new refrigerator is ready and waiting — all we need is approval to install it!

What to do?

Well, here’s one reason we are becoming more and more enamored of our RV extended warranty through Wholesale Warranties. Unlike most warranty brokers who wash their hands of the deal once you’ve purchased the contract and signed on the dotted line, they are willing to go to bat for you if the warranty reimbursement process isn’t going as smoothly as it should.

We called Wholesale Warranties and told them what was going on. The difference in cost between repairing and replacing was not astronomical. Couldn’t the warranty company allow us to go ahead with the refrigerator replacement?

Within an hour they had called our warranty company, Portfolio Protection, explained to them why it made more sense for everyone involved to install the new fridge Camping World had in stock and, magically, our refrigerator replacement had been approved. We were floored that Wholesale Warranties would do this and that they could be such effective facilitators. Yet it turns out that making these calls is business-as-usual and is routine customer support for them.

Early the next morning we parked the fifth wheel in front of Camping World, and service technician Raymond and his assistant José got started on it right away. Unfortunately, our old refrigerator was 1/4″ too wide and could not fit through our front door. RV refrigerators are installed at the factory before the doors and windows are in place!

RV warranty repair Removing RV refrigerator from fifth wheel trailer

Good heavens, the old fridge can’t go out the front door!

So, the dining room window had to come out!

RV extended warranty Removing an RV window from fifth wheel trailer

The dining room window has to be removed
so the refrigerators can be hoisted in and out.

RV extended warranty repair RV window removed

It would have been so much easier if the refrigerators could have gone through the door!

RV warranty refrigerator replacement gets through window

The new fridge is ready for some strong person to pick it up!

A forklift was used to remove the old fridge and hoist up the new one. It was at this point that I realized just what a challenging DIY project this would have been for Mark!

RV warranty refrigerator replacement New RV fridge on forklift

Thank goodness for fork lifts! This is not an easy DIY installation for one guy!

Then the new RV refrigerator was put in place.

RV warranty repair New RV refrigerator installed in fifth wheel trailer

Raymond settles the new refrigerator into place.

The pretty oak panels from our old refrigerator were slipped into place on the new door.

Under warranty Oak panel installed on RV refrigerator door

Our oak panels from the old fridge slide neatly into place.

Then Raymond ran around back to hook everything up in the refrigerator vent.

RV extended warranty repair new RV refrigerator installation

The back of the new fridge is exposed in the vent area where Raymond hooks it all up.

Meanwhile, his assistant José removed the silicone remnants from the wall around the window opening using a scraper and wiping the wall down with Acrysol

Removing silicone seal on RV window

José scrapes the old silicone sealant off the outside wall
around the window opening.

Removing silicone from RV window

The wall has to be completely clean for a good seal on the window.

Raymond lifted the window into place, and he and José screwed it in place.

RV warranty refrigerator replacement Installing RV window

Raymond puts the window back in place.

Installing RV window on fifth wheel trailer

The guys work together to get the window screwed into place.

Then they remounted the window valence and reinstalled the day-night shades.

Installing valence on RV window

The window valences are reinstalled over the windows.

Installing day-night shades on RV window

The day-night shades are reinstalled on both windows.

Raymond gave us instructions not to put a bead of silicone around the window frame for about a week because he had used caulk tape that would ooze a little for the next few days.

We were impressed with how quickly these guys worked and got the job done, and we were really grateful to Rick for making an opening for us. In just 36 hours from the time we had soup for ice cream, we had a brand new RV refrigerator up and running. Now we just had to wait for it to cool down (about 9 hours).

In the meantime, our frozen meats had fully defrosted but were still cold. We couldn’t re-freeze any of them when the refrigerator finally cooled down. Arghhh!

As we hitched up the fifth wheel, I noticed Mark had a twinkle in his eye as he drove it around to the back lot. He hopped out and instantly set up the barbecue, right there in the Camping World parking lot. He happily began grilling burgers, hot dogs, steaks, chicken and brats.

“We can’t let all this good meat go to waste!” He said to me as he handed me the bacon and sent me inside to fry it up.

It turned out he’d invited the service guys to come on over to our place for a barbecue lunch, and when the yummy smells from our grill began to waft across the Camping World parking lot, they quickly showed up in a golf cart and began chowing down.

The crew enjoys a barbecue lunch

The Camping World service team stops by for an impromptu barbecue. Thank you guys for a super job!

At last it was time to settle up the bill with the service manager, Rick. Our RV warranty deductible was $100. Indiana charges sales tax on deductibles, so our total out of pocket cost for this phenomenal repair was only $107. Wow!!

Our RV warranty (less our $107 deductible + tax) covered $1,647 on this one repair alone — that is nearly the cost of the entire four year RV extended warranty itself!

Shockingly, this RV refrigerator replacement was just one of a slew of major repairs our trailer needed in a four month period in 2015:

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

Are we happy with our extended trailer warranty? OMG Yes!!

Having suffered four major repairs in four months, we have come to the conclusion that anyone with an RV older than four or five years should seriously consider getting an RV extended warranty, especially if they don’t like unexpected financial surprises.

What a shock it was to find out that RV refrigerators are expected to fail by their tenth year of service. All you need is that one repair plus another one or two (air conditioner, water heater, furnace, slide-out mechanism, hydraulic leveling system, etc.) to cover the cost of a four year warranty and even wind up ahead.

Do I sound enthusiastic and excited about our trailer warranty? I am!! I was hugely skeptical about RV warranties before our trailer axle and RV refrigerator replacements, and all I can say is that this has been an amazing process!!

If you want to find out what a warranty would cost for your rig, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Call our contact, Missi Junior at (800) 939-2806 or email her at missi@wholesalewarranties.com. Or go to this link:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Form

The discount comes off of the quoted price at the time of purchase — just be sure to ask!

To learn how RV warranties work and how they differ from RV insurance, see this article:

What Is An RV Warranty and Is It A Good Investment?

If propane RV refrigerators are so prone to failure, why don’t we have a residential refrigerator? — It takes a huge solar panel array and big (heavy) battery bank to power a residential refrigerator along with everything else in an RV. See the following:

Can a Residential Refrigerator Run on Solar Power in an RV?

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What Is An RV Warranty – Do You Need One? Is It A Good Investment?

An RV Extended Warranty (or “RV Warranty“) is a mechanical breakdown protection product that you can purchase for your RV to give you a financial boost in the event that a system on your RV suddenly fails. By their very nature and reputation, RV warranties are contracts that most RVers either swear by or swear at, and for those of us whose eyes glaze over when reading legal documents, it can be really hard to figure out whether or not buying an RV extended warranty is a worthwhile investment.

This article is the first in a series of articles about RV extended warranties that present our personal case history with our RV warranty on our 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker II LS fifth wheel trailer (four year warranty cost: $1,904). This first article begins by explaining what RV extended warranties are, how they work, and how they differ from RV insurance. It also explains what to look for when buying an RV extended warranty contract. Then it goes on to show our own RV warranty in action during our first claim which was an axle replacement on our fifth wheel trailer ($1,136 reimbursement).

The rest of the articles in this series show our warranty in action. How valuable is this extended trailer warranty to us?

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

What is an RV Warranty and should you have one?

To buy or not to buy an RV warranty?

You can navigate through this article using these links:

 

RV Extended Warranty Overview

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All RVs come with a manufacturer’s warranty when they are purchased new, and these warranties are good for a year or two.

After the manufacturer’s warranty expires, you can purchase an RV Extended Service Contract, commonly known as an RV Warranty, from an independent warranty company for another few years. Or you can just hope for the best.

RV extended warranties are contracts that describe in detail what is covered and what is not covered by the policy, and they have a specific start date and end date. You can pay for the warranty outright when you sign the contract or you can purchase it over time with payments. These contracts are designed to cover the mechanical working components on and in your RV.

If you have an RV extended warranty, when there is a system failure on your RV, you begin the process of filing a claim with your warranty provider by finding an RV repair shop of your choice to diagnose the problem. The shop then calls the warranty company’s administrator for authorization to do the repair. The claims adjustor then reviews the details of your failure to determine if the failure falls under the coverage offered by the contract you purchased. After a covered repair is completed, the RV repair facility contacts the warranty company to present them with the bill, and the warranty company pays for the covered items immediately with a corporate credit card. You then pay for the items that were not covered by the warranty plus a deductible.

The real sticking point comes with what is covered and what is not covered by the warranty. It is up to you to determine the likelihood that enough items on your RV will break during the time period that the warranty is in place to cover the cost of the warranty. Obviously — and hopefully — it will cover a bit more than that, just to make you feel like you made a smart decision by buying a warranty in the first place.

What Is The Difference Between Insurance and A Warranty?

In a nutshell, the difference between an insurance policy and a warranty is that insurance covers damage caused by an incident or accident happening, while a warranty covers the failure of something mechanical that shouldn’t have broken.

Insurance is there for damage that can be pinpointed to an event on a particular date: a fire, a theft, a tree falling on the rig, a tornado. Warranties are there for systems that die without an obvious cause: the hot water heater can’t warm the water any more, the fridge can’t keep the food cold any more, the air conditioning is on the fritz, or a slideout room refuses to budge in or out.

Insurance is something we all understand pretty well since we’ve all had to have car insurance since we bought our first car. Warranties are a little less familiar because, for most of us, our only experience is with manufacturers’ warranties or with a home warranty we got as part of the deal when buying a house. There are no laws that say we have to purchase a warranty of any kind for any big asset we own, so many folks (like us) steer clear of them!

Risks

The value of an RV warranty all boils down to risk. Just like insurance, you pay some money up front in the hopes that something major goes wrong that will cost a lot more than the money you paid for the contract. It’s a way of protecting yourself from having to come up with a massive amount of money to pay for an unexpected repair — a way of hedging your bets by paying a little now instead of (possibly) a lot later.

Just like playing the slot machines at the casino, you put in quarters — either with regular payments or by paying for the whole contract at the beginning of the warranty — and you hope the bells suddenly go off and a huge pile of quarters lands in your lap. Unfortunately, in the back of our minds, we all know that when it comes to casinos, “the house” always wins. And who owns the biggest and fanciest office buildings in most major cities? The insurance companies!

So, while we consumers are betting that something bad will happen when we buy insurance or a warranty, the insurance and warranty companies are successfully betting that it won’t.

Our RV warranty Personal Case History

RV extended warranties provide the most value for folks that have a rig that is two or more years old. Our fifth wheel trailer that we live in full-time is a 2007 model, and its aging equipment could be very costly to repair. The hot water heater, RV refrigerator and air conditioning systems are all more and more prone to failure as the days pass. Sometimes older rigs like our develop cracks in the frame or the big slide-outs fail (we have three slides). We’ve heard heard horror stories from fellow RVers of broken trailer axles and unexpected $1,700 refrigerator replacements. We realized that an RV warranty could make a lot of sense for us.

As we did our research, we had no idea that we would soon experience both trailer axle AND RV refrigerator failures!

We decided to work with Wholesale Warranties, an RV extended warranty broker. We gave them the details about our rig, and they got quotes from the warranty companies they work with and chose the one that was best suited to our situation. We signed a contract with Portfolio Protection for a $1,904 four year Exclusionary RV Extended Warranty with a $100 deductible.

Fifth wheel trailer RV at Harvey RVs in Bangor Maine

Our fifth wheel peeks out from the its hospital room at Harvey RVs in Bangor Maine

Some warranty companies are fly-by-night operations that might go out of business before the contract period ends, and others have top ratings with the Better Business Bureau and are backed by A-rated insurance companies that will step in and take over if the warranty company fails.

Wholesale Warranties makes it their business to sort out which companies are the best ones and to establish relationships with them. Wholesale Warranties has been growing by leaps and bounds and was named one of Inc 5000’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2014, and one of San Diego’s fastest growing companies in 2015. More important, they have made many clients very happy.

What is unusual about Wholesale Warranties is that they don’t simply sell a contract and walk away. They are there for their clients to help smooth the process, if necessary, when a claim is filed. In fact, they are willing to pay for a client’s claim themselves, if they believe it was wrongly denied, and then fight with the warranty company behind the scenes after the fact.


Little did we know that before the first year of our contract was up, we would need FOUR major repairs on our trailer and we’d end up almost $4,500 AHEAD of the cost of our trailer warranty!

.

The RV Warranty In Action – Trailer Axle Replacement!

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About three weeks ago, in mid-July, 2015, Mark noticed some serious and irregular wear on the passenger side tire on our rear trailer axle. Our tires were just 14 months old, had been properly cared for, and had less than 10,000 miles on them. Oddly, one half of the tire had okay tread while the opposite half, 180 degrees out, was a mess. On the bad half, the tire was severely cupping on the outside tread and was nearly bald. The other three tires looked great. Much research and many phone calls later, we realized that our problem was probably a bent axle.

Bald tire

Weird tire wear: bald on one side, on one half of the tire

Bald tire other side

Same tire spun 180 degrees – bad but not bald!

We were wrapping up our travels in Nova Scotia at the time. We weren’t sure what was involved in replacing an axle, and even though our warranty covered repairs in Canada as well as the US, we had friends in Bangor, Maine, and felt better about doing the repair there. Lippert Components helped us locate a phenomenal RV repair facility in Bangor — Harvey RVs — and we nervously drove 450 miles to Bangor on the faulty tire and took the buggy in.

The diagnosis was exactly what we had expected: a bent axle. The bizarre wear on the tire was due to the tire “dribbling” like a basketball as it rolled down the road. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Bangor, the driver’s side tire on the bad axle was also beginning to cup, and we needed both tires replaced.

We decided to take advantage of our RV warranty to have some other broken items repaired as well. This way, one deductible payment would cover all the different warranty repairs. The extender on one of our awning arms had sheered off, and we had just developed some kind of leak in the fresh water tank during the last few weeks.

Brent Horne, the service manager at Harvey RVs, called our warranty company’s administrator and got same-day authorization to do all three repairs, with the water tank repair pending a full diagnosis.

The axle replacement and awning arm replacement went like clockwork, although we did have to wait ten days for the new axle to be built and shipped from Indiana. A minor complication with the replacement was that the new axle came with electric drum brakes pre-installed and we had to move our new disc brakes from the old axle to the new one.

The diagnosis on the water tank was inconclusive. The leak was at the top of the tank, and we would have to drop the tank out of the trailer frame to determine the cause. Because it was at the top of the tank, it leaked only when the tank was totally topped off, not when it was less than full. We decided to defer that repair to the service folks at the Kansas RV Center (which used to be NuWa, the manufacturer of our trailer) rather than delay our travels waiting for a replacement tank to be shipped to northern Maine. Kansas would be in our general direction as we headed west in the fall.

Old trailer axle new fifth wheel RV axle

The new axle (left) has electric drum brakes and old axle (right) has our nifty new disc brakes.
The challenge with this repair was moving the disc brakes from the old axle to the new one.

When the bill for the repairs came, it was the following:

Awning Arm, tax and labor 46.73
Trailer axle, tax and labor 1,089.42
Freight for trailer axle 219.90
Tires, tax and labor 417.78
Total Repairs: 1,773.83

The Service Manager, Brett, called the warranty company and was immediately paid by credit card for the following:

Awning Arm, tax and labor 46.73
Trailer axle, tax and labor 1,089.42
Total Covered by Warranty: 1,136.15

Our bill was the following:

Freight for trailer axle 219.90
Tires, tax and labor 417.78
Deductible 100.00
Total Out of Pocket: 737.68

 
So, on a total bill of $1,773.83, our savings was $1,036.15.

 

RV Warranty Analysis

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As mentioned above, RV warranties are intended to reimburse the parts, tax and labor expenses for repairing system failures, and the trailer axle and awning arm piece were clear system failures.

However RV warranties do not cover the freight costs for shipping large replacement parts from the manufacturer to the RV repair facility, and they don’t cover “maintenance items” that wear out or need regular maintenance to operate correctly. There is also a very large gray area when it comes to items that were damaged by the failure of something else, like the tires being damaged by the failed axle. Similarly, water damage due to plumbing or roofing failures may or may not be covered.

In our case, even though the tires were very obviously disintegrating because of the bent axle, they are classified as a maintenance item so they weren’t covered. We learned later that Wholesale Warranties has a separate policy for tire failures due to road hazards, but it wouldn’t have helped us in this case either.

So, we paid for the tires out of pocket.

Has our RV warranty done the job so far?

Absolutely! 10 months into our 4 year warranty contract, here’s where we stand:

 
Cost of warranty: $1,904.00
Reimbursed so far: $1,036.15
Remaining to break even: $867.85

We are 20% of the way through our warranty contract period.
We are 54% of the way through our contract cost.

So, we are ahead of the game at this point. $867.85 more in repairs in the next 38 months, and we will have matched the cost of the warranty.

NOTE: We did not know at the time we wrote this that we’d have a bunch more major repairs in the next THREE MONTHS!

A financial breakdown of all our repairs is at the top of this page HERE

Harvey RVs Bangor Maine

All smiles at Harvey RVs after the repair is finished
Expert Technician Steve and Service Manager Brett join me in front of our rolling home.

Could An Insurance Policy Have Done The Job?

Usually, insurance and warranties don’t overlap in the kinds of things they cover. Insurance generally requires an event that caused damage while a warranty generally requires a system to fail on its own. In this particular situation of a bent trailer axle, however, if we could have pinned the axle failure to a particular event, perhaps when we hit one particuarly gargantuan pothole of the thousands we encountered in Nova Scotia, then we could have filed an insurance claim based on hitting that pothole.

Using insurance, our claim would have been:

Trailer axle, tax and labor 1,089.42
Freight for trailer axle 219.90
Tires, tax and labor 417.78
Total Claim: 1,721.10

Note that we couldn’t have slid the awning repair into the insurance claim.

If the claim were approved, all of those items would have been covered. However, we have a $500 deductible on our trailer insurance and we would have had to pay the $46.73 awning repair out of pocket.

Here’s the breakdown for comparable repair work (axle and awning) using our warranty versus our insurance policy:

Covered Out Of Pocket
Warranty 1,136.15 737.68
Insurance 1,721.10 546.73

 

Why Use a Warranty When Insurance Works Too?

If we had filed an insurance claim, there would have been a wait for an insurance adjuster to assess the damage. With the warranty, the authorization for the repair is given to the service provider as soon as they call. Also, our “reward” for filing the insurance claim would have been a ding on our insurance record which would have affected our insurance premium in the future.

If we had had one of those nifty insurance policies that has a “disappearing deductible” that decreases each year that no claim is filed, the clock would have started over again at the maximum deductible amount the next year after we filed the claim.

I’m not sure if the difference in out of pocket costs of $190.95 ($737.68 in the case of using the warranty minus $546.73 in the case of using the insurance policy) would have been made up in the next three years of insurance premiums (the time period that the warranty will continue to be in effect), but it’s easy to imagine this claim resulting in an increase in our annual insurance premium of $66.67 ($190.95 / 3 years).

Of course, this particular system failure — a bent trailer axle — is unusual in that it is even possible that an insurance policy might have been used to pay for it. In most cases, RV systems die on their own without a specific event causing the failure (an accident, road hazard, theft, etc.), and those failures are not eligible for insurance coverage at all.

 

Is An RV Warranty A Good Value?

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RVs are notorious for system failures, and sooner or later big expensive stuff is going to break on every RV.

If you don’t like large, unexpected financial outlays, an RV extended warranty can mitigate or eliminate the cost completely when a major system on board goes on the blink. There’s a lot to be said for that when you are suddenly jerked off the road and away from your travels and dumped into the waiting room at an RV repair shop while you nervously wonder if the service guys are any good and if your rolling home is going to be repaired correctly.

Bicycle riding in Nova Scotia Canada

It’s a shock to be dragged away from your happy travels to deal with an RV repair

Obvioiusly, you could simply bank the amount you would have put into buying an RV warranty and use that cash as needed when things fail. It is easy to go that route when you remember that, on average, RV warranties must work out in favor of the warranty companies or they couldn’t stay in business.

However, an intangible in all of this is peace of mind when chaos reins. Abandoning your travels to take care of an ailing RV is really stressful. Believe me! And there are lots of stresses involved in any repair that is big enough to be warranty-worthy.

There is stress in finding a repair facility that has the right equipment and the right skill set and a good reputation, especially when you are traveling in a part of the country you don’t know. There’s stress in taking a detour to get your RV to the shop if it’s not in totally safe driving condition (like ours was). There’s stress in figuring out where you’re going to stay while your RV is in the shop, if you can’t stay in it. And there’s stress as you wait, first for a shop appointment, and then for the necessary parts to come in.

Going through all that stress while also knowing in the back of your mind that the repair is going to put a big hole in your bank account makes it even worse.

Directions to Everywhere

It’s all fine and dandy to be traveling in remote areas,
but where do you find a top quality RV service repair shop?

The purpose of an RV warranty is to pay up front to cover potential costs later. Where they get the bad rap is when you pay up front to cover potential costs that never materialize or that materialize but aren’t covered. However, if you think about it, in many ways the devil that you don’t know may be worse than the devil that you do.

What I mean is that paying a fixed amount for an RV warranty, an amount that you know up front, may save you more or less cash for repairs in the end, but at least you’ve lessened the surprises and you know your costs. Plus, you may save far more than just cash when all is said and done. Even if having the warranty doesn’t save you all the cash you spent on it, you can view the difference as the price of peace of mind. If it saves you more than it cost you, you’re ahead.

 

What to Look For in an RV Extended Warranty

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It is easiest to turn to a company like Wholesale Warranties to get a warranty. When you work with them they will evaluate which warranty product is the best fit for your RV. Whichever warranty company they recommend for you, one of their requirements is that the warranty company call them if you file a claim that is over $500 so they can be part of the claims process and help it be as smooth as possible.

Since we got our RV warranty (our warranty company is Portfolio Protection), Wholesale Warranties has grown a lot and has begun providing their own warranty protection in addition to brokering for warranty companies like Portfolio Protection. This is a new and exciting development, because they have been through the claims process with their clients so many times that they know what RVers really need. The name of their warranty company is Viking Protection.

However, if you want to research RV warranty companies on your own, here are some things to think about:

Inspection and Age of RV

With the better warranty companies you will need to make your RV available for an inspection to determine the condition of everything at the start of the contract. This way, when you file a claim, there is no question as to whether the problem was a pre-existing condition. The warranty companies that Wholesale Warranties works with will send an agent to your RV, wherever it is parked, to do the inspection, and you don’t have to lift a finger.

If your RV is older than a 2001 model or has over 100,000 miles on the odometer, it may be difficult to find a warranty company. In some cases, a motorhome with more than 100k miles can get a “coach only” warranty for everything except the engine and drive train.

Warranty Types

There are two major warranty types: Stated Components and Exclusionary Contracts. Stated Component contracts cover only what is listed in the contract. Exclusionary Contracts cover everything EXCEPT the items listed. Definitely get an Exclusionary Contract, as many more things are covered in that type of contract.

You Choose the RV Repair Shop

Make sure there’s no clause that restricts who can do the work. You want to choose the best repair facility you can find and not be forced into using one that is not up to your standards.

Deductible

Deductibles can vary. Make sure you know what it is!

Fair Treatment of the RV Repair Shop

Be sure the warranty company guarantees to pay the RV repair shop quickly, preferably immediately with a corporate credit card, and make sure they pay the shop’s standard prices for the parts rather than wholesale or some amount to be negotiated. RV repair shops are often little outfits, and they can’t afford to be toyed with by a warranty company.

What Happens if the RV is Sold

Be sure the contract will be valid for another owner, just in case you decide to sell before it expires. A warranty is a nice perk to offer the buyer that may set your rig apart from others they are considering.

Cancellation, Missed Payments and Refund

Find out what happens if you decide to cancel the contract prematurely, and whether the purchase price will be refunded in whole or in part, and find out what happens if you miss a payment. Some warranty companies offer a month-to-month payment arrangement, but in the event that you miss a payment the contract terminates. Wholesale Warranties goes the extra mile and will work with you if you have extenuating circumstances that make it hard to make a payment, and if you cancel before the contract is up, you will be refunded the unused portion of the contract.

Hotel & Lodging Reimbursement

Some warranties cover a certain amount of lodging if you can’t stay in the RV during the repair. This is where Wholesale Warranties is really taking care of RVers with their new Viking Protection contracts. You will be reimbursed for “trip interruption” expenses of: $150/day in hotel rooms (up to $750), $50/meal for 2 meals a day (up to $500), $75/day for a rental car (up to $450), up to $100 towards boarding your pet and up to $200 to cover a mobile mechanic’s upfront fee for coming out to your RV.

Towing and Roadside Assistance

Some warranty companies offer reimbursements for some amount of towing and/or roadside assistance. Wholesale Warranties‘ new Viking Protection reimburses up to $750 in towing expenses.

Canadian RVers and RVing in Canada

If you plan to travel to Canada, make sure the warranty company covers repairs done in Canada. Also, not all warranty companies cover RVs that are registered in Canada. Wholesale Warranties’ new Viking Protection does!

 

Final Notes

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We couldn’t be happier with our RV warranty so far, and have been convinced in the value of purchasing an RV warranty.

At this point we still have three years to go on our warranty, and we have a big repair looming as we tackle the problem with our fresh water tank. We have no idea how our RV warranty will come into play on that repair, or if it will at all, and of course, we will be posting and analyzing that repair!

It’s a pain to feel that you have to buy yet one more big ticket item for your RV, and I am the last person to say you need to do this or that in your RVing adventures. However, if you are interested, Wholesale Warranties is offering a $50 discount to our readers. Mention that you heard about them through our website, Roads Less Traveled, and they will deduct $50 from the quoted price at the time of purchase. Just be sure to ask! You can get a quote for your RV (not including the discount) at this link:

Wholesale Warranties Quote Form

Or you can call them at 800-939-2806. Ask for our contact, Staci Ritchie-Roman. Or email her at staci@wholesalewarranties.com.

NOTE: We had no idea during this first repair that in the next few months we would have a slew of major failures after our trailer axle was replaced. The summary of our warranty reimbursements to date is below:

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

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Making Money RV Workamping with Amazon CamperForce

One of the most interesting booths at the RV Show in Quartzsite, Arizona a few weeks ago was Amazon CamperForce, an RV workamping program designed by Amazon specifically for full-time and seasonal RVers. We spent some time chatting with a delightful CamperForce veteran, Nancy, and were very intrigued by the program.

Amazon has been an unusual and forward thinking company since its inception, and this program has taken the RV workamping world by storm. Nancy and her husband have been a part of Amazon’s CamperForce for several years now, and they have found it is a fabulous way for them to pick up a cool $10,000 each year between October and Christmas!

Amazon CamperForce booth at the Quartzsite Arizona RV Show

Amazon CamperForce veteran Nancy explains the program at the Quarzsite RV Show

Every fall, Amazon needs extra labor in their shipping warehouses to get products into boxes and out the door in time for Christmas. Full-time RVers love to make money on the road without making long-term time commitments. So there is a perfect employer/employee match between the two.

Nancy explained that from September until December 23, Amazon hires RVers at a rate of $10.00 – $11.25 an hour to work 40 hours or more per week, starting on the date of their choosing. There are opportunities for bonuses and wage perks too.

The work ranges from receiving to stowing, sorting, shipping and picking, and is physically very demanding. As Nancy said with a laugh, it’s a great workout program and she always drops a few pounds! For those that want to fill up their RV travel kitty quickly, she says you can work as much as 60 hours a week. She also mentioned that CamperForce employees are guaranteed work, so even if things get slow for a day or two, full-time employees are sent home while CamperForce workers are given things to do.

There are RV parks in the communities where Amazon has its warehouses, and workers’ RV sites are free. Nancy talked of how a whole community spirit envelops the CamperForce workers each fall, and how they look forward to seeing each other from season to season. A neat benefit for the communities where the warehouses are located is that a big group of RVers shows up every fall, contributing to the local economy and giving them a boost!

Their warehouses are located in the following locations, and they start hiring as early as February the year before:

  • Campbellsville, Kentucky
  • Haslet, Texas
  • Murfreesboro, Tennessee

I was really surprised when she mentioned that last year there were 800 applications for 500 positions, and that all the positions were filled by March!!

I had heard of this program before, but didn’t know a whole lot about it, so I was excited to be able to learn a little at the RV show. What a cool gig for full-time RVers!

Several full-timers have written about their Amazon CamperForce experiences on their blogs. Here are a few links from folks who have really been there and done that, as well as Amazon’s official CamperForce link:

There are more links below!

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Related Posts about Full-time RVing Finances and Earning Money on the Road:

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RV Budget & Expenses – What does it cost to RV full-time?

The biggest question most people have before they run away to live in an RV full-time is: Can I afford it? To help you answer that question, this page outlines our living expenses for six months of RV travel in 2014, and it compares those costs to the costs we incurred during our first year of full-time RVing in 2007-08.

This is a long post. To read it in sections, the following links skip further down:

1. Is the Full-time RV Life Affordable?
2. Fixed Expenses
3. Variable Expenses
4. Cost Comparison: 2007 vs. 2014
5. Capital Costs & Depreciation

IS THE FULL-TIME RV LIFE AFFORDABLE?

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People enjoy the full-time RV lifestyle on all kinds of budgets, and the money full-timers have to work with comes in all kinds of forms. Some retirees have big pensions but not a lot of savings. Others have a nest egg of savings but no pension. Many younger full-time RVers work while they travel, either to cover all of their living expenses or to supplement other income streams.

The form your money is in makes a difference in how you RV and what your expenses will be. If you have a big income that comes from a limitless source (a pension and/or Social Security), then a large loan on a new luxury Class A motorhome may be just fine and the nightly expense of high-end RV parks won’t be a problem. However, if you are trying to make a small nest egg last to your dying day, and you are not even retirement age yet, you may be best off spending a portion of it to purchase your RV outright, rather than paying interest on a loan, and you will also be looking to save money on camping and overnight parking.

If you are planning to work camp in exchange for an RV campsite, or if you will be working part-time jobs as you travel, or working via the internet from your RV, your choice of overnight parking spots may be based more on your job’s requirements than on the whims of your travel interests, and your camping costs and the kind of work you do will subsequently be tightly linked.

The bottom line, however, is that if you can afford your current lifestyle in a stick-built home, you will probably be able to afford a more mobile lifestyle in an RV.

Full-time RV Costs are Very Personal, including ours!

Everyone has different priorities and lives differently, making budgeting a highly personal project. Our use of budgeting apps has helped us get a handle on our expenses. My numbers here reflect who we are. We are not yet Social Security age, and we want to live this way for as long as possible, so we have been frugal in our choices, and we have adjusted to a simple life.

In my former corporate life, I hit Starbucks most mornings and ate dinner out almost every night. We owned and maintained two cars, and we each had significant commutes. Now we eat dinner out very infrequently, and we limit our coffee shop splurges. We own just one vehicle and drive much less. Where we used to have property taxes, utilities and HOA fees, we have none of those things in our RV lifestyle. All in all, we spend about $500 less per month in our RV than we did in our house. But that huge savings is entirely a function of what our old lifestyle used to be and what our current lifestyle is now. Other full-time RVers might not see those same savings.

To cut to the chase, our living expenses for our six months of summer travel in 2014 came to $2,090 per month. But that’s a meaningless number until we uncover where it came from…

How We Travel

We have a 2007 Dodge RAM 3500 single wheel diesel truck that we bought new one month into our full-time RV lifestyle. It now has 84,000 miles on it. This truck tows a 2007 NuWa Hitchhiker 36′ fifth wheel trailer that we bought new at the end of our first year of full-timing in the spring of 2008.

We own our truck and trailer outright and do not carry any debt. This not only helps us keep our monthly expenses down but makes it easier to sleep at night. There is a lot to be said for the budget traveler’s creed: “Go cheap, go small, go now!”

To save money, we don’t have a cell phone. We estimate that since we started traveling this may have saved us about $50/month or as much as $4,500 all together. We have also equipped our trailer with solar panels and we camp for free virtually every night. These choices make us happy, but may not suit everyone. Here’s a description of our minimalist internet and communications solution and our tips for how to live off the grid in an RV.

What Will Your RV Budget Be?


Budgets for this lifestyle are both easy and difficult to anticipate. Your full-time RV lifestyle budget will be exactly what your stick-built-home budget is now, minus the expenses related to living in your current home, plus the expenses of living in your RV.

It’s that simple.

You already know what you typically spend at the supermarket, and that will stay the same when you travel in an RV. Look at your current bills and scratch off your mortgage/rent, utilities, property taxes, HOA, house maintenance costs and the gas/registration/insurance costs for your current vehicles that won’t be coming along on your adventure.

Then estimate your future lifestyle costs that you need to add in (the numbers we share below will help with that). These include your fuel costs and your vehicle insurance and registration fees for both vehicles that make up your rig, whether it is a motorhome/car combo or a truck/trailer combo. If you have chosen your domicile city/state, you can do very specific research to estimate your future vehicle insurance and registration fees. We have some notes on domicile selection on our full-time RVing page.

There are also maintenance, repair and upgrade costs for the rig and your own personal interests to consider as well.

Of course, the whims of the economy are beyond anyone’s control. In the spring of 2008 diesel fuel prices soared out of sight in just a few months. Half a year later the world economy fell apart. Yet, the full-time RVers that were on the road then just kept on going — like everyone else — finding ways to make the best of a grim situation. So, once you launch your full-time RV lifestyle, you will find yourself adapting as the world changes around you — just like you did at home.

A Look at our Expenses, Then and Now

Mickey Mouse Calculator

Mickey always makes this stuff more fun.

My plan before we started in 2007 was to spend about $1,800 per month. I estimated $500 per month for food and household items (which is what we had been spending at home); $500 per month for gas; $500 per month for campground fees; $100 per month for RV and truck insurance; and I left a slush of $200 per month for other things.

We ended up spending $1,672 per month during our first year on the road, beating our budget by a little. During those twelve months we saw diesel prices jump by almost 90% from $2.75 to $5.16 per gallon (in the places where we were buying diesel). At the same time, we also learned about boondocking and discovered that we didn’t need to spend anything on campgrounds. Those two unexpected events cancelled each other out!

Seven years later, we are now spending $2,090 a month. This is a 25% increase. Part of that is due to inflation which has raised consumer prices 14% between 2007 and 2014. The other reason for the increase is that we have changed our lifestyle a little bit, and we’ve become less stringent about splurging on things like eating out.

FULL-TIME RV EXPENSES BREAKDOWN

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RV Lifestyle expenses can be broken into “fixed costs” that you spend every month regardless of what happens worldwide or to you, and “variable costs” that depend on your activities.

FIXED COSTS – Six Months – May 1 to Oct 31, 2014

Our fixed costs for the six months between May and October of 2014 are shown in this chart. There is an explanation of what each category represents below that.

Expense Category Amount
Food & Household Items $582
Vehicle Insurance $135
Communications $88
Propane $50
Laundry $50
Miscellaneous $40
Mail & Postage $32
Vehicle Registration $29
Hair Care $15
RV Dumps $4
Health Insurance
Total $1,025

Food & Household Items – $582 / month
This item covers all supermarket purchases, including groceries, household cleansers, toiletries, laundry detergent, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and anything else that can be found at Walmart, Safeway, Albertsons, Target and other places. Our rig is fully outfitted, but occasionally we get a small kitchen appliance or pick up a DVD. Those things get lumped into this number.

Vehicle Insurance – $135 / month
This includes both truck and full-time RV insurance for our 5th wheel trailer. We pay it annually, but the monthly cost is shown. If we had kept our Arizona home address, this line item would have been twice as much. There is more detailed info on the selection of a domicile (home address) and the implications that choice has on your vehicle insurance in the fulltiming section.

Communications – $88 / month
After five years of relying on free wifi signals for internet access and using pay phones for phone calls, we got a Verizon MiFi jetpack in 2012, and we now use it for all our communications, including phone calls. This figure includes both our Verizon account with 10 GB of data per month and our $2.99/month Skype account that lets us make unlimited phone calls to the US and Canada no matter where we are in the world (this was very helpful while we were on our sailboat in Mexico). We’ve gotten used to using the laptop as a phone on Skype. It’s a little weird because the person you are talking to ends up on speaker phone, which they may or may not appreciate, and some calls get dropped, but it works well enough.

Our complete communications strategy is described in detail HERE.

Propane – $50 / month
Prices for LP are all over the map, and we haven’t been very diligent about shopping around. We just buy it when we need it from whoever has it nearby. We’ve been paying anywhere from $2.59/gallon to a little over $4.00 a gallon in 2014. We use about 15 gallons per month: a little more in December/January/February when we use our vent-free propane heater to heat the trailer, and less in summer. RVers that stay in RV parks and campgrounds with electric hookups use a lot less propane than this, because they don’t run their refrigerator on propane 24/7. If you have hookups and don’t have metered electricity, you can save on propane costs in the winter by using an electric space heater.

Laundry – $50 / month
After a few years of messing with the little single-load washing machines at laundromats, we discovered that it is much better to use the biggest machines in the place because they are generally the newest machines, they do the best job, and they hold a heckuva lot. Dryers are usually 25 cents for a set period of time that ranges from 5 to 10 minutes, and we’ve found that most commercial dryers need about 35-40 minutes to get the job done. Washers and dryers at RV parks are usually much cheaper than those in the local laundromat.

Miscellaneous – $40 / month
My mom was a professional bookkeeper, and she taught me never to have a “miscellaneous” category because things get lost in there. However, I can’t ignore the $40 of cash we spend every month that is unaccounted for with receipts — little things like a coke and snacks from a convenience store on the road, or whatever.

Mail/Postage – $32 / month
This includes both our mail forwarding service and monthly mail delivery (discussed in more detail in the full-time RVing section) as well as postage we buy to send letters and packages.

Vehicle Registration – $29 / month
As with Vehicle Insurance, we pay this annually, but I show the monthly cost here. The cost is lessened by careful selection of a home address, discussed in more detail in the full-time RVing section.

Personal Care Services – $15 / month
For us, this is just hair cuts. Other full-timers may have other personal care services to consider like manicures, pedicures, massages, etc. (you never know!).

RV Dump – $4 / month
This item is here because it is a regular part of the boondocking lifestyle (you’ve gotta go every two to three weeks at a minimum). Many RV dump stations are free, but if you have to go to an RV park to dump the tanks because there aren’t any free ones nearby, it will generally cost anywhere from $5 to $15. Our RV dump station page has other tips and tricks related to managing the holding tanks.

Health Insurance —
Health insurance costs are totally individual, and the coverage for everyone is evolving. We do not have health insurance. Other younger full-time RVers have posted some terrific articles about health insurance and the impact on one’s choice of domicile state. Check out the excellent posts by Wheeling It and Interstellar Orchard. They both reference insurance agent Kyle Henson of RVer Health Insurance who is quickly becoming the go-to agent for all RVers’ health insurance needs.

 

VARIABLE COSTS – May 1 to Oct 31, 2014

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“Variable costs” are lifestyle expenses that are essentially optional — at least for a while. They can be deferred to a later month, foregone all together, or can make a fun splash in the current month. The great thing about these expenses is that they are controllable. If fuel costs skyrocket or you are short on funds, then stay put and save money! If you’ve got a more modest budget, consider staying in each location for a month or a full season to take advantage of the monthly or seasonal rates at RV parks. If you really want to skimp, boondock or at least stay in the dry camping sites at any RV park or campground that will allow it and has them available.

Expense Category Amount
Diesel $497
Upgrades* $163
Maintenance & Repair* $106
Restaurants $175
Entertainment $46
Clothes $37
Supplies & Tools $26
Memberships $15
Camping & Overnight Costs $0
Hobbies
Total $1,065
Grand Total Fixed + Variable $2,090

*These numbers are averaged since we started traveling. See descriptions below.

Diesel – $497 / month
Fuel costs are highly variable, both because they go up (and sometimes down) and also because you may drive more or less in any given month. Fuel can cost as little as $0 per month, if you stay in one place and ride your bike around town. Or fuel costs can dominate your budget if you decide to take your RV from Florida to Alaska and back via the scenic routes through New England and Southern California — in six months!

The figure here is our average monthly fuel cost for a six month summer season of travel. We drove a loop from Phoenix, Arizona through Nevada to Crater Lake in central Oregon and then went from northeastern Oregon to Sun Valley Idaho and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and finally dropping south through Ouray Colorado and into northern Arizona and back to Phoenix.

Our stats for this trip were as follow:

Total Driven: 9,092 miles Loop: AZ-OR-WY-AZ
Towing: 4,673 (47%)
Not Towing: 5,267 (53%)
Fuel Mileage: Towing: 10 mpg
Not Towing: 17 mpg
Gas Prices: Low: $3.59 (AZ)
High: $4.39 (NV)
Types of Roads: Interstates: 392 miles (3%)
State/Local: 9,573 miles (97%)
47 Stops Shortest Stay: 1 night (15 times)
Longest Stay: 22 nights
Average Stay: 4 nights

To show just how variable the fuel cost can be in the full-time RVing lifestyle, during the four months prior to this trip, from January to April of 2014, we stayed in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area and had dramatically lower fuel costs. We towed the trailer very short distances (20-40 miles) every few weeks as we explored different places in a 50 mile radius of downtown. We drove the truck on its own only once every few days. During that time our average monthly fuel bill was $195. Our lowest fuel bill was $112 (in January). Diesel prices during that time ranged from $3.59 to $3.79 per gallon.

Maintenance & Repair – $106 / month

This item is hard to predict, but now that we have owned our truck and trailer all these years, we can provide an average of what we’ve spent so far on maintenance and repairs since we started full-timing.

This figure is an average of all our truck and trailer maintenance costs from 2007 to 2014 rather than being just the expenses we incurred over our six months of summer travels in 2014. We did not use the trailer when we lived on our sailboat, although we did use our truck when our boat was in San Diego and Ensenada at the beginning and end of our cruise, and all that is factored into this average.

Mark is very handy, and he does a lot of the maintenance work himself (not the oil changes, though). He replaced both of the fifth wheel’s front landing jack legs and landing jack motor while we boondocked in Arizona (absolutely amazing to witness — I will write a post with step-by-step procedures and pics eventually!).

A summary of our maintenance and repair expenditures since we started (totaling $5,830) is the following:

  • Oil changes: $75 or so every ~5,000 miles on the truck
  • New Tires: 2 sets of new tires on the truck, one set on the trailer, $800 per set
  • New Brakes: Replaced front brakes on truck
  • 5th Wheel Landing Legs: Replaced the landing jacks and motor on the front of the 5th wheel
  • Engine Maintenance: We have performed all the maintenance (and minor repairs) required on the truck
  • Wash/Wax: We wash the rig regularly and wax once or twice a year

For budgeting reference, the maintenance and repairs on our rig have cost 0.128% of the purchase price of our truck and trailer per month since we bought them. That may be applicable to other truck/trailer combos. I am not sure it would be applicable to a motorhome/car combo, as motorhomes are inherently more complicated and expensive to maintain.

Note: In 2015, although all of our expenses were about the same as in 2014, we had several MAJOR and UNEXPECTED repairs as shown below. Luckily, our RV Extended Warranty covered the repairs:

Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:

Cost of Warranty $1,904
Total Cost of Repairs we've had done $7,834
Total Out of Pocket Costs for those repairs $1,145
Repair Reimbursements:
Trailer Axle Replacement $1,036
RV Refrigerator Replacement $1,647
Plumbing Issues & Window Leak $1,142
Suspension Replacement $2,550
RV Toilet Replacement $314
Total Repair Reimbursements $6,689

Our trailer warranty has paid for itself 3.5 times over, and there's still lots of time left on the contract!

Upgrades – $163 / month
Unlike Maintenance & Repair costs which must be done (although some can be put off until you have the funds to do them), upgrades to the rig are entirely optional. The figure here is the average of all our improvement and upgrade costs on our truck and trailer since we bought them rather than just the upgrade costs we incurred during our six months of summer travel in 2014.

The upgrades we have done total $8,235 and include the following:

Restaurants – $175 / month
This is a hugely variable cost that has changed a lot in our lives over the years. The figure for these six months of summer travel in 2014 is way higher than ever before. Our biggest “eating out” cost comes from getting coffee and muffins at coffee bistros (so nice!). The rest is a combination of beers at cute brewpubs and meals at Subway and other fast food joints. For comparison, in the first four months of 2014 before this trip, from January to April, our monthly restaurant bill was $70. In those months we weren’t camping near many inviting places!

Entertainment – $46 / month
We don’t pay for entertainment often because we find so much great entertainment that is free. However, we do miss out on some museums and events that charge an entrance fee.

Clothes – $37 / month
We have a two-week rotation of clothes for both warm and cold weather, and since we started traveling we have replaced almost all of these garments. Commercial washing machines are hard on clothes and they wear out. Our biggest clothing expense is shoes. We replace our hiking shoes and running shoes regularly, and we buy high quality, expensive shoes. As a side note, if you get a credit card from Cabellas, REI or another outdoors store, and put all your living expenses on it, and pay it off each month to avoid interest charges, you can use the points each year to get your hiking shoes or other camping gear for free.

Supplies & Tools – $26 / month
This category includes all the tools and supplies we use to keep the rig in good shape. Mark loves to try new products and has a growing collection of tools in his toolbox. Before we left, he made the mistake of selling almost all of his tools. If you are handy and can work on your rig, don’t make that mistake too! He tried to “make do” with the bare minimum of tools for the first year, which is why this category didn’t used to exist for us, but now he regularly buys little goodies that make his maintenance tasks easier.

Memberships – $15 / month
This includes both annual memberships and magazine subscriptions. We belong to Escapees RV Club and Good Sam Club and we purchase an America the Beautiful Federal Lands Pass to the national parks each year. We also subscribe to several magazines.

Camping – $0 / month
Camping fees and overnight costs are extremely variable from one RVer to the next, because this is the very essence of the lifestyle. In addition, full-time RVers are a broad mix of people with a wide variety of tastes and preferences.

From May to October, 2014, we did not pay for any overnight camping, and that is the norm for us. However, although we did not pay for camping over the summer season (or in January, 2014), the months of February, March and April, 2014, were unusually expensive for us. Those three months averaged $83/month because we spent time at three different campgrounds visiting friends and chasing wildflowers at a state park (we were a little late for the flowers — rats!).

Many people boondock to save money, and we started that way too. However, we have found that it is by far our preferred way to camp. If we couldn’t boondock, we wouldn’t live in an RV.

That said, it is not for everyone. We have met very few full-time RVers who boondock as much as we do. Most people who enjoy boondocking, or “free camping,” do it from 25% to 75% of the time, at most. For full-timers who work, it is hard to find a boondocking location near most jobs, and you have to pack up and go to the RV dump station every 10 days to 2 weeks, disrupting your life. Even if your work is location independent, and you work out of your RV, finding good boondocking locations that have adequate internet access to do that is not easy. During the summer of 2014 we spent 5 weeks camping in places that were 10 miles or more from the nearest internet access.

Overnight campsite and RV park fees with hookups typically range from $30 to $50 per night or more. That is $900 to $1,500 per month. However, a lot of full-timers avoid paying anywhere near that much and average closer to $500 to $900 per month. There are many ways to save money on overnight camping costs, and those are covered on our Full-time RV Lifestyle Tips page.

As a budget figure, if you are a future full-timer, and you are excited by the $0 figure here, and you plan to boondock a lot but haven’t don’t it much yet, include a “slush” camping fee figure of $350 per month in your budget until you find out if you really like it. Some folks plan to “free camp” all the time but find it isn’t practical for their lifestyle once they hit the road.

Hobbies —

An area I completely overlooked before we started full-timing was the cost of our personal interests and hobbies. This was an important oversight that we came to recognize only after we had been on the road for a few years.

Before starting a life of adventure, it may be hard to imagine that you will need or want to have any hobbies. Sightseeing ought to be enough! But it isn’t. After a while, you will want to have pursuits that complement your travels in one way or another or that perhaps are not even related to your travels at all. Our hobbies are photography, writing and mountain biking, and these all cost money.

Since we started full-timing, we have upgraded both of our DSLR cameras twice and upgraded both of our pocket cameras twice. As for biking, we started out with cyclo-cross bikes but sold those when we found we were almost always camped near very rugged dirt roads. We replaced them with mountain bikes in March, 2014. Bike maintenance isn’t a huge cost, but it’s there. We also upgraded our bike rack a few years ago. And back in 2008 we splurged on a fabulous Hobie inflatable kayak that we loved for several years but eventually sold because we needed more room in the basement.

Mountain BIking

All smiles mountain biking in Bend, Oregon

Even my writing has its expenses. Keeping a blog can be free, but hosting, backup services, firewall services and other things add up. Writing also requires a computer. When we started out, Mark and I shared a single MacBook Pro laptop. After four years, this became impossible because we always wanted to use it at the same time. So, we replaced that one MacBook Pro with two newer ones in 2011 and 2012. Then, in 2014 we replaced the older one of those with yet another newer one.

All of these expenses hit the bank account with a resounding thwang and can’t be ignored or wished away. You may not know exactly what your hobbies will be when you start full-timing, but put some kind of figure into your budget that allows for replacing your computer and phone as often as you have in the past (if you plan to use them as much) and for buying the various things that will make your favorite pastimes possible.

 

EVALUATION – COST COMPARISONS – Year 1 and Year 8 – Lifestyle Changes and Inflation

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Budgets and actual expenditures vary over time. Most fulltimers find that they spend a lot more in the first few months of travel than they do once they have been out for a while. It takes some time, and quite a few purchases, to make an RV a home, and most of those costs come at the beginning. These are things like patio mats, camping chairs and grills, tools your suddenly discover you need, area rugs, throw pillows, kitchen gadgets, campground directories, travel guide books, and all those funky gismos they sell at Camping World that are just so perfect for the RV lifestyle.

When budgeting for a fulltime RV lifestyle, it is probably wise to assume that the first three months will cost about 50% more than the target monthly figure. Make room in the budget for this, and you won’t panic when it happens.

5th wheel RV camper in the woods

Peace.

Also, it takes a while to figure out how you want to live this lifestyle. What kinds of campgrounds do you like? Are you okay with overnighting in a parking lot? How much do you want to drive each day? How long do you want to stay put in one spot?

Most new fulltimers dash all over the country in the first year, and we were no exception. The exhilaration of having the whole continent to yourself, with no one tapping their watch and expecting you home, is such a thrill that we all run around and try to see as much as possible. Only when we are utterly exhausted do we start to slow down.

It also takes a long time to let go of old living patterns and establish new ones. When we first started fulltiming we were accustomed to one- and two-week vacations, and we lived as though we were on vacation. It was only after a few months on the road that we began to realize, deep inside, that we didn’t have to see all the sights in three days. We could stay three weeks and see them only when it was sunny and when we were in the mood for sightseeing.

This change in the rhythm of life ultimately affects how you spend your money. You begin to realize that this is not a vacation, so you can’t spend money as if it were. You begin to slow down and appreciate the truly priceless pleasures, like a quiet morning reading a book, or an afternoon hike that has no other purpose than to smell the fresh air.

Over time, both lifestyle changes and inflation have affected our monthly expenses. Inflation has hovered at around 2% a year (which compounds to a gross jump of 14% between 2007 and 2014 — here’s a graph showing inflation trends) and food prices have increased by 20% in the same time period.

FIXED COST Comparison

Studying the expenses we published on this page after our first year of RVing as compared to the costs for the current year (2014), it seems that, as expected, our fixed costs were most influenced by inflation.

Expense Category 2007-08 2014
Food & Household Items $477 $582
Vehicle Insurance $108 $135
Communications $88
Propane $42 $50
Laundry $40 $50
Miscellaneous $36 $42
Mail & Postage $30 $32
Vehicle Registration $15 $29
Hair Care $15
RV Dump Stations $4
Total $746 $1,025

VARIABLE COST Comparison

Our variable costs have changed more due to changes in our lifestyle than anything else.

Expense Category 2007-08 2014
Diesel $482 $497
Upgrades $140 $163
Restaurants $175
Clothes $8 $37
Supplies & Tools $26
Memberships $15 $15
Camping $145 $0
Total $926 $1,065
Grand Total Fixed + Variable $1,672 $2,090

What’s amazing (and a big relief!) is that our “Upgrade” and “Maintenance” costs didn’t bring any unwanted or nasty surprises during the years we have been on the road, and they have remained much the same as they were in the first year, although there were plenty of years without any upgrades or big maintenance projects. As mentioned above, we barely ate out in the beginning and we splurged this past summer. We had mostly new clothes when we started and have replaced almost all of them, and we now see the importance of having the right tools and supplies for little “RV Owner” projects.

CAPITAL COSTS & DEPRECIATION

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The biggest difference in costs between living in an RV full-time and living in your own stick-built house is that the RV will depreciate very quickly while the house will appreciate over time. The recent real estate collapse notwithstanding, housing prices always increase as the decades go by. In contrast, RVs, cars and trucks quietly make their way to a value of $0 and eventually breathe their last breath in the crushing facility.

In a five year period, a brand new rig (that is, a motorhome/car combo or truck/trailer combo) will typically lose 30% to 50% of its value, and by the end of a decade it will be down to 25% to 40% of its original MSRP. The only way to know what the full-time RVing lifestyle really costs is to know both what you paid for your RV at the beginning and what you sold it for at the end. The difference, divided but the number of months you lived in it, is the true cost of ownership.

That figure doesn’t show up in a regular living expenses budget. However, for a brand new $150,000 rig that reaches the ripe old age of 10 years, you may be looking at “losing” around $75,000 or $625 a month while you own it. Of course, that doesn’t include the additional cost of interest on a loan if you have one.

I’ve had several eager 20-something future full-timers email me saying they wanted to live in an RV after college because they didn’t want to throw away money on rent and they didn’t think buying a house would be a good investment. Unfortunately, an RV involves “throwing away” lots of money too. In the end, the cost of owning an RV — from purchase to sale and through the thick and thin of all the maintenance and repairs in between, not to mention the cost of campgrounds and RV parks — probably adds up to the same amount as renting an apartment or paying a mortgage/taxes plus utilities.

No one should ever give up their dream of RVing full-time because an RV is a bad investment. At the same time, no one should go into RVing full-time because buying an RV is a good investment.

SUMMARY

I hope all this info helps you out as you plan your full-time RV adventures. Despite all the words on this page, your future full-time RVing costs can be approximated fairly easily, and planning your budget involves just three steps:

  1. Write down all your expenses now
  2. Subtract the ones that won’t apply when you start full-timing
    (property taxes, utilities, car expenses for cars you won’t own and commutes you won’t make, HOA fees, etc.)
  3. Add the new expenses you’ll incur in your new lifestyle
    (motorhome/car or truck/trailer insurance and expenses, camping costs, “fun” – restaurants, hobbies, entertainment)

Quite a few RV bloggers share their budgets and their thoughts about the costs of the RV lifestyle on their blogs. The following links offer itemized expense lists and excellent insights into creating a full-time RVing budget:

  • WheelingIt – Personal budget and analysis
  • Technomadia – Personal budget and analysis
  • Gone with the Wynns – Personal budget and analysis (reported by quarter — divide by 3 for monthly!)
  • RV Dreams – Three tiers of hypothetical sample budgets

A final note — I posted this image in a Quick Pic post the other day, but I think it bears repeating here:

If you are lucky enough to find a way of life that you love, you have to find the courage to live it.

Words to live by.

Don’t stress out about the numbers too much.
Spice up your life, take the plunge, and go have an unforgettable RVing adventure!

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